Friday, 22 July 2016

Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival- The Early years

Barry Britton's iconic poster from 1987

There are many strands to the music tradition in Ballyshannon and, for the past thirty years, Ballyshannon Folk Festival has attracted musicians and visitors to the town during the August Bank Holiday. The festival has outlived similar events in Ireland and this is due, in no small measure, to the voluntary input of all who give freely of their time and talents in co-ordinating what is a major event in the town. The Festival has also survived because it had clear objectives, namely, to foster and promote musical traditions and to attract visitors to Ballyshannon and the North West. The presence over the years of many continental visitors, who were attracted by their love of Irish music has helped to promote the region. Most of the household names on the Irish scene have appeared at the Festival: Christy Moore, Clannad, De Dannan, Altan, The Furey Brothers and Davy Arthur, Andy Irvine, Dolores Keane, Mary Black, Charlie Mc Gettigan, Davy Spillane, Stockton’s Wings, Sharon Shannon, Kieran Goss, Liam Óg ÓFlynn, Dervish and the list is endless.
How it all Began
The festival had its roots in a Fleadh Cheoil held in Ballyshannon in 1977 and, due to the popularity of that event, a number of people who had been involved decided to organise a Folk and Traditional Music Festival in 1978. The first committee were: Kevin Mc Daid (Chairperson),Philip Mulligan (Secretary), Pat Mc Gee ((Treasurer), John Bromley, Marie Bromley, Raymond Mc Daid, Bernie Finn, Louis Culkin, Patsy Herron, Vincent Mulligan, Mick Mc Grath, Sean Ferguson, Benny Dorrian, Jim Mc Intyre, Sean Óg Kane, Brendan Mc Gill, Herman Mc Neilis and Eileen Hoey. The sight of tents pitched in the Fr. Tierney Park area, The Fair Green and the Brothers’ Field was to be a regular happening for many years. In the Market Yard the marquee was the focus for the concerts until the move in recent years to the Abbey Centre. Street theatre and music events brought a richness of colour to the town, and many young locals would have derived their musical inspiration, from participating in these fringe events. No doubt the festival has been an important event for local people, living away from the town, who returned for the music and to meet friends and renew acquaintances. The posters advertising the Folk Festival have become collector’s items and their artistic merit is regularly admired by locals and visitors alike. Barry Britton, a talented artist from Rossnowlagh, has interpreted the history of Ballyshannon and its folk festival in his posters which has given the Folk Festival an image which any marketing company would be proud to claim. The numbers of people involved in organizing this voluntary festival over the years must run to hundreds but the following, along with those previously named, were the chief officers from 1978-2007 : Phonsie Travers, Anthony Travers, Ray Gaughan, Brendan O’ Reilly, Jim Mc Intyre, Herman Mc Nelis, Gerry Whelan, Kate Grehan, Carmel Merrifield, Margaret Gallagher, Fidelma Gaughan, John Meehan, Sean Staunton, Vincent Mc Nally, Carmel Doyle, Michael Mc Corry, Barney Mc Laughlin, James Kelly, Pauric Bromley, Billy Grimes, Danny Carron and Mick Mc Grath.  

                      Twas in the town of Ballyshannon I first ceilidh’d to De Dannan
And the voice of sweet Dolores warmed the air
There I le’rned of Ireland’s history from the singing of ould Christy
I was proud to tell my fri’nds that I was there
When next year I went back I fell in love with Mary Black
As her “Song for Ireland” nearly curled my hair
Then I joined the clapping hand to the singing’f the Sands
I was proud to tell my friends that I was there.

Danny Kyle verse above from his ballad "The Glasgow Pub Run to Ballyshannon

A  Local History Book suitable for those at Home and Away

"Ballyshannon. Genealogy and History" reveals newly researched history and genealogy of the town, extending as far as the Rossnowlagh, Cashelard, Corlea, Clyhore, Higginstown and Finner areas. Includes the parishes of Kilbarron and Magh Ene. It contains the full story of  The Green Lady which  was recently performed in Ballyshannon  to great acclaim. The genealogy material provides detailed guidelines for anyone tracing their roots in the area or anywhere in County Donegal or Ireland. The book contains 500 pages and is richly illustrated with stunning colour, aerial photography, original illustrations and rare photographs of the area not seen before. Available in Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands, Clearys, O'Neills  in Ballyshannon and 4 Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

Also available from Anthony Begley for postal enquiries email

1 comment:

  1. I remember playing there with my band ‘Spud’ in 1978/9 ?